Some enchanted evening. Something wonderful.
Take your pick, and that will about describe the beautiful production of “A Grand Night for Singing” that opened Thursday at the Virginia Samford Theatre.
And, yes, I can hear you now: “Sure, Alec. It’s Rodgers and Hammerstein, and it’s being sung by Kristen Campbell, Caleb Clark, Kristi Tingle Higginbotham, Richie Lisenby and Dana Porter. There’s no way it’s not going to be good.”
You’re right. But this is better than good. This is a beautiful night of beautiful music, some of it presented in a way you’re not accustomed and some of it presented just the way you’ve always heard it, but maybe better.
“A Grand Night for Singing” is strictly singing, one Rodgers and Hammerstein song after another,. Some are hits from shows like “The Sound of Music,” “Carousel,” “South Pacific,” while others are more hidden treasures from lesser-known shows like “Pipe Dreams,” “Flower Drum Song” and “Allegro.”
With the singers that are in this show, there are obviously a number of highlights – Clark’s heart-rending “This Nearly Was Mine,” Lisenby’s gender-swapping take on “Maria” (the “How do you solve a problem” one, not “I just met a girl named” from “West Side Story”), Porter’s playful “It’s Me,” Campbell’s powerful “If I Loved You” and Higginbotham’s stunning “Something Wonderful.” The duets and trios are a delight, and when these five all sing together – wow. They’re particularly effective at the end of both acts, just a terrific ensemble.
Director Jan D. Hunter and music director Debbie Mielke have made sure that this is more than just five great singers at a microphone, though. The arrangements are sometimes surprising, but certainly more traditional if the moment calls for it.
It all takes place in Birmingham’s most historic theater on a simple but beautiful set designed by Ben Boyer. The music director and orchestra are as front and center as I’ve ever seen them in a show, and they need to be. Mielke and her team (Matt Barron on reeds, Joe Cooley on percussion, Sarah Freed on bass, Melanie Rodgers on violin and Donny Snyder on cello) are playing some of theater’s best-loved music, and here they are doing it with lush arrangements that are as much a part of the evening’s success as its wonderful performers.
There are a few moments in the show that don’t resonate as fully as the others, but those are few and far between. It’s mostly two hours of theater’s greatest music sung by a fantastic ensemble.
“A Grand Night for Singing” is exactly what it promises in its title, and more. It’s also a grand night for playing, putting some of Birmingham’s best musical talent on display.
“A Grand Night for Singing,” at the Virginia Samford Theatre through Sept. 24.